Former Walgreens president, CEO and chairman ‘Cork’ Walgreen III passes
DEERFIELD, Ill. – Charles R. (Cork) Walgreen III, former president, CEO, chairman of the board, and chairman emeritus of the iconic U.S.-based drug store chain Walgreens, died at age 80 on Monday, Sept. 26, at his home in Lake Forest, Ill.
Last year, Walgreen III attended the fall luncheon of the Walgreen Alumni Association as a special guest in recognition of his 80th birthday. Among the crowd of several hundred people was Alex Gourlay, co-chief operating officer of Walgreens Boots Alliance. “As I listened to the tributes and spoke with Mr. Walgreen, I was struck again by how he led our company – with a great singular focus on his customers, with humility and a very clear sense that Walgreens needed to stand for value and care in the community,” said Gourlay. “He made courageous decisions in that straightforward framework and built the Walgreens we know today as customers, employees and partners. I counted myself grateful whenever I was fortunate enough to spend time with him and his family.”
Walgreen III was the grandson of Charles R. Walgreen Sr., who founded the 115-year-old pharmacy retailer that now is included in the Retail Pharmacy USA Division of Walgreens Boots Alliance.
Walgreen III had an early start on his remarkable 58-year Walgreens career starting in 1952 as a stock boy after school and on vacations. He later entered the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, from which he earned his bachelor’s degree in pharmacy in 1958. He returned to Walgreens in his first professional capacity in 1959 as a pharmacist at Chicago’s 7510 N. Western Ave. store. In 1963, he was named administrative assistant to the vice president of operations and was elected that year to the company’s board of directors. He gradually moved up in his career in a series of increasingly responsible positions that included district manager (1965 to 1966), Western regional director, and then Midwestern regional director (1966 to 1968) before being named VP in 1968, president in 1969, president and CEO in 1971 and chairman and CEO in 1976.
He liked to recount what his father said to him when he retired: Walgreen Jr. called his son into his office saying, “Here’s your desk. Here are the keys. I’m going fishing.” More than a family anecdote, it demonstrates the trust his father had for him.
Walgreen III served as Walgreens CEO until his retirement in January 1998. He remained chairman until August 1999, then retired from the board as chairman emeritus in 2010.
In addition to his Walgreens responsibilities, Walgreen III served a number of industry, civic and professional organizations, including as a member of the American Pharmaceutical Association, a director and chairman of the National Association of Chain Drug Stores, a director of the Illinois Retail Merchants Association and Junior Achievement of Chicago, and a member of many other charitable and civic organizations. He was a long-time member of the Exmoor Country Club in Highland Park, Ill., the Sailfish Point Golf Club in Stuart, Fla., and the Lake Winnipesaukee Golf Club in Wolfeboro, N.H. In 2004, he donated $2 million to his alma mater, the University of Michigan College of Pharmacy, to establish a professorship focusing on researching the socio-economics of health care policies, regulations and ethics.
Walgreen III is credited with significant strategic changes that powered the company’s growth for decades to come. When he became president in 1969, the company was not meeting its profitability goals and growth targets. And, in a sense, it was struggling with its identity. As he would put it, “We thought we could sell everything … suits, hammocks, carpets… We were trying to please all people with all types of merchandise that didn’t belong in a drugstore.” In addition, Walgreens by that time had a number of varied businesses, including Wags (its chain of freestanding restaurants) and laboratories and manufacturing plants for private label products. Walgreen III determined that it was time to get back to Walgreens core business: pharmacy. With that, he initiated a turnaround for the company that was deemed by many to be unprecedented.
In 1976, he began divesting Walgreens of those peripheral businesses, selling its food services, closing the labs and manufacturing operations, and ending many of its joint interests in businesses as varied as optical services, grocers and even its Mexico-based Sanborn’s department store chain. The process culminated in 1988 with the sale of the Wag’s restaurants to Marriott Corp. Walgreen III began a lasting focus on pharmacy services, customer convenience and investing wisely back into the business. He also committed to focusing on core product categories: health care items, beauty and photo.
As the drug store chain expanded, he also changed the whole view of profitability, switching the focus from profit per store to profit per customer visit.
He was a strong proponent of innovation, converting Walgreens pharmacies in the early 1980s to Intercom, a computerized prescription processing system. It was the first network of its kind—linking all stores in the chain electronically and thereby enabling any Walgreens location to serve its pharmacy customers. This system revolutionized the company—and the industry.
He embraced technology in other areas as well, with a commitment to automating the company’s distribution centers as well as new technologies in point of sale scanning, photofinishing and other areas.
By the early 1990s, he led another transformation—to freestanding stores versus traditional drugstore locations in strip malls—on what became known in the company as “Main & Main, the best corners in America.” These stores featured drive-thru pharmacies, which Walgreens also pioneered in the industry.
When he retired as CEO in January 1998, the company had enjoyed 23 consecutive years of record sales and earnings growth under his leadership, had six stock splits and grown to more than 2,400 stores (from 561 in 1971) generating $13 billion in sales (from $817 million).
Walgreen III was hailed as an unrivaled industry leader who advocated the high value of his company’s team members. He reflected his grandfather’s hiring advice by selecting a strong management team. Unassuming but focused on business results, he shunned personal publicity, crediting instead his management team and employees with the company’s successes.
Born in Chicago on Nov. 11, 1935, he was the son of Mary Ann Leslie and Charles R. Walgreen Jr., and the third Walgreen to lead the company.
Walgreen III is survived by his wife, Kathleen B. Walgreen; six sons: Charles Richard Walgreen, Kevin Walgreen (a Walgreens SVP), Leslie Ray Walgreen, Chris Patrick Walgreen, Tad Alexander Walgreen and Carl Allen Jr.; two daughters: Brooke Julia Walgreen and Jorie Allen Grassie; 19 grandchildren; and one great-grandchild. He was preceded in death by his parents, Charles R. Walgreen Jr. and Mary Ann Leslie Walgreen, and his son, Tad Alexander Walgreen Sr. He is also survived by his sister, Leslie Ann Walgreen Pratt; brother, James Alan Walgreen; and several nieces and nephews.
Services will be private. Donations in Walgreen III’s memory may be directed to:
Radiation Oncology Fund at the Cardinal Bernardin Cancer Center
Loyola University Medical Center
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Mr. Walgreen (Cork) was a class act. For many years he would travel to Western Iowa to hunt pheasants. On his way he would stop by our Walgreen store in Fort Dodge unannounced and say hi to everyone. He said he always enjoyed coming out to the real world to see what was going on. Everyone was always impressed that he was warm and thanked everyone for all they did for the company . I often wish I had told him how much that mattered to all of us. That kind of of leadership is needed more than ever in our country. Don Groharing
NACDS CEO presented with Trade Association CEO of the Year honors
WASHINGTON – Nearly 450 members of the association community gathered last week to honor the winners of CEO Update’s 2016 Association Leadership Awards, including Trade Association CEO of the Year Steve Anderson of the National Association of Chain Drug Stores.
Presenting the award to Anderson was Tom Kuhn, president Edison Electric Institute.
Kuhn — who first met Anderson more than 35 years ago when the latter worked for former Rep. John Anderson — asked the NACDS leader how he encourages honest feedback and occasional dissent from his staff, wrote William Ehart in a CEO Update tribute to the award winners.
Anderson cited the book “Good to Great,” by Jim Collins, who said team-building is about “getting the right people on the bus.” But he went a step further, Ehart noted. “We want everybody on our team to actually be in the driver’s seat of that bus,” Anderson said.
Also recognized by CEO Update were Christine McEntee of the American Geophysical Union, who was named Professional Association CEO of the Year; and Aric Newhouse of the National Association of Manufacturers, who was awarded Association Lobbyist of the Year.
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Meijer partners with the University of Michigan on hypertension effort
ANN ARBOR, Mich. – The University of Michigan Health System has established a new partnership with Meijer pharmacies to provide hypertension management services for adult patients.
U-M patients will be able to visit participating Meijer pharmacy locations to receive a blood pressure check and assessment. If the patient’s blood pressure is elevated, the clinically trained Meijer pharmacist will communicate directly with the patient’s U-M Health System provider. The patient will also receive appropriate follow-up and education about disease, clinical goals, medications and lifestyle.
In addition, documentation of the patient’s visit to their Meijer pharmacy will be recorded in their electronic medical record so the patient can easily discuss the reading and assessment with their U-M Health System provider at their next medical visit.
“This partnership is allowing us to provide our patients with clinical pharmacist services in the community,” said Hae Mi Choe, director and associate dean of pharmacy innovations and partnerships at U-M. “Our patients will have more access to an effective and safe hypertension treatment and monitoring program right in their neighborhood.”
The partnership is available at two participating Meijer locations in Ann Arbor: Meijer at 3825 Carpenter Road and Meijer at 3145 Ann Arbor-Saline Road.
Each participating Meijer location has purchased an automatic blood pressure monitor to provide more accurate readings to patients. The device takes six consecutive blood pressure readings and provides an average of the readings. The devices were purchased based on a recommendation from the U-M Health System Hypertension Quality Improvement Committee. U-M cardiology and chronic kidney disease clinics currently use these machines to ensure accurate blood pressure readings for patients.
U-M Health System patients with elevated blood pressure will be identified at clinic visits and given the option to visit the Meijer pharmacy for their follow-up care. There will also be outreach to patients with elevated blood pressure who live in close proximity to the participating Meijer locations inviting them to visit their local Meijer pharmacy, or return to their physician’s office, for their follow-up care.
“We are excited to partner with the highly regarded University of Michigan Health System,” says Karen Mankowski, vice president of pharmacy operations at Meijer. “This partnership shows the importance of the collaboration between community pharmacists and health care providers. We look forward to offering our clinical services to the residents of Ann Arbor and the surrounding areas through this opportunity.”
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